One Giant Leap to Normality

By Youssef Wahba


After a year of online classes and virtual events, McGill has announced the resumption of in-person learning for the upcoming 2021-2022 academic year. For many second-years, it means that they are–finally–able to set foot on campus and get a grasp on what ‘actual’ university life is like. Students have welcomed this news with mixed emotions, with positive reactions mainly stemming from people who never actually saw McGill’s campus.

During the Fall 2020 semester, all courses were delivered–as McGill puts it-primarily through remote platforms. Professors have most commonly chosen Zoom as the number one platform to hold their lectures. Events such as Frosh and McGill’s 2020 Beatty Memorial Lecture (delivered by renowned psychologist Steven Pinker, BA’76), were no exception and were also offered through online communication platforms.

In Winter 2021, McGill planned the return of some in-person activities, and many tutorials were able to take place back on campus. However, the online option was still viable to those who couldn’t attend. Midterms, assignments and final exams were submitted through online grading softwares such as Crowdmark, Webwork and myCourses.

A brief history of Zoom- a decade ago, in 2011, Cisco’s Vice President of Engineering, Eric Yuan, left the company along with 40 other engineers with the aim of entering the videotelephony market-a market that many investors back then perceived as being rather saturated. Thus, Yuan and his fellow engineers found it difficult to attract people to invest in his product.  However, they raised $3 million in seed money during June 2011, and were able to launch the very first version of the app back in August 22, 2012. The stock price of Zoom has risen by almost 480% from its value 5 years ago, and as of May 2020 the company was valued higher than the world’s 7 largest airlines.

For Fall 2021, McGill plans a gradual return to in-person classes and on-campus activities, subject to one-metre distancing in August 2021. As more people become vaccinated and vaccination levels rise to 75% among the 16-29 age group, McGill will move to a no-distancing phase which will allow events to take place on campus. However, large lectures (those with 150+ enrolled) will still be delivered remotely with some components (labs, tutorials, etc.) taking place on-campus. Courses with a room assigned on Minerva will take place on campus, while being subject to a room change.

While many are ecstatic about the upcoming academic year, some still prefer having an online option. Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic has shed lights on the future of education and academia, where people could study wherever and whenever they want.  Combining the best of both worlds, a hybrid system may be the answer taken by several institutions to augment their educational system.